The First 24 Hours of Breastfeeding

Information, Tips, and What to Expect

A newborn and his mother at maternity ward
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The first 24 hours of your baby's life are crucial to a positive breastfeeding experience for both you and your child. Whether you deliver vaginally or by C-section, putting your newborn to the breast as soon as possible after delivery is essential. Getting off to a good start is key. Here's what to expect during the first 24 hours of breastfeeding.

The First Few Hours

Newborns tend to be awake and very alert for the first two hours after they're born, and they're typically pretty eager to eat.

If it's possible, you should try to breastfeed your baby during these first two hours. Labor and delivery nurses and midwives are well-trained to help you with positioning and latching your baby. Realistically, it can be a bit tough to latch on your baby right after delivery. If you have your baby in a hospital, you may have a blood pressure cuff on one arm, an IV in another, and the baby swaddled in quite a few blankets. So keep in mind that ​breastfeeding and the positioning may not feel very natural and comfortable immediately after the birth of your baby. Do the best that you can and know that this will all change within a few hours once you're out of the delivery room. 

Waking a Sleepy Baby

While newborns are awake and alert during the first 2 hours of life, they tend to become sleepy from about 2 to 24 hours after they are born. Depending on the labor and type of delivery you had, baby (and you!) are likely to be exhausted.

However, it is necessary for both the establishment of your milk breast supply and the baby's nutrition to wake the baby up to breastfeed during this stage if he is not waking up by himself.

Establishing Your Breast Milk Supply

Put your baby to the breast very frequently to stimulate your breasts and the production of breast milk.

If your child is very sleepy and not breastfeeding well and often, you can start to simulate what the baby would be doing if he were breastfeeding more actively. The stimulation of your breasts is what helps to build your milk supply. So, you can keep putting your baby to the breast, but you can also begin removing some breast milk through a hand expression technique or with a breast pump.

Common Issues for Mothers in the First 24 Hours

The most common issue breastfeeding mothers face in the first 24 hours is sore nipples. A poor breastfeeding latch is a common cause of pain. But, even when the baby is latching on properly, the nipples may still be sensitive. Mothers often jump when their baby latches on because their nipples are in such a heightened state of sensitivity. Nipple pain should get better once the baby is latching on well and the sensitivity fades. 

Moms who have a c-section have other challenges in the first 24 hours. Pain from the surgery can make it difficult to position the baby and breastfeed. Pain medication and help with positioning from a nurse or lactation consultant can make getting started much easier. 

Common Issues for Newborns in the First 24 Hours

Sleepiness is the most common issue breastfeeding newborns have in the first 24 hours.

Some of the medications given during labor and delivery can make a baby even more sleepy than usual. This is not to say that every baby has an issue with anesthesia or pain relief, but it could happen. If you're concerned about the medications and how they may affect your newborn or breastfeeding, talk to your doctor before your baby is born. 

Tips for the First 24 Hours of Breastfeeding 

For some moms and babies, breastfeeding goes smoothly right from the start. For others, it takes a little patience and some help to get things going. Here are some tips for breastfeeding in the first 24 hours.

  • Try to breastfeed for the first time within the first hour after your baby is born. Your baby is more likely to be awake and take the breast. 
  • Be persistent and consistent. Even if your baby doesn't impress you with a full feeding right away, take what she gives you and see what happens at the next one.
  • Try spending time in direct skin-to-skin contact with your newborn since it can encourage your child to breastfeed more.
  • Don't give your baby a pacifier. If your baby is crying or looks interested in sucking, you can put her to the breast instead.
  • If your baby is sleepy, keep putting her to the breast every few hours, even if you have to wake her wake up. And, remember, newborns become much more alert and breastfeed better as the days go on.
  • If you're worried that your child isn't getting enough to eat the first day, talk to your nurse or a lactation consultant. Your colostrum is all your baby needs in the first few days of breastfeeding, and it increases each day until your breasts fill up with milk by about the third day postpartum. So, even though it seems like your child needs more, you don't have to give supplemental formula feedings unless it's medically necessary.  

Other Concerns in the First 24 Hours 

There are times when it just isn't possible to start breastfeeding right away. If your child is born prematurely, has breathing issues, or heart-rate problems, she may go to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) for observation, monitoring, and treatment. In these cases, you can ask for a breast pump and start pumping your breast milk for your child. Then, as soon as your child can breastfeed, ask for help and begin to put her to the breast. 

Sources: 

Holmes AV, McLeod AY, Bunik M. ABM clinical protocol# 5: peripartum breastfeeding management for the healthy mother and infant at term, revision 2013. Breastfeeding Medicine. 2013 December 1;8(6):469-73.

Lawrence, Ruth A., MD, Lawrence, Robert M., MD.  Breastfeeding A Guide For The Medical Profession Eighth Edition. Elsevier Health Sciences. 2015.

Riordan, J., and Wambach, K. Breastfeeding and Human Lactation Fourth Edition. Jones and Bartlett Learning. 2014.

 

Edited by Donna Murray

 

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